Omicron to rule and overwhelm the world in 3 to 6 months, doctor says

SINGAPORE – The new variant of Covid omicron “will likely overwhelm the whole world” in the coming months, according to a Singapore-based infectious disease doctor.

While vaccines against the strain can be developed quickly, they need to be tested over three to six months to prove that they can provide immunity against the variant, Dr Leong Hoe Nam of Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital said on Wednesday.

“But frankly, omicron will dominate and overwhelm the whole world in three to six months,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia”.

Delta, the strain that currently accounts for 99% of Covid infections, began to become more common in the Indian state of Maharashtra in March 2021 and was dominant globally in July, according to Reuters.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said on Monday it would take months to develop and ship a vaccine that specifically targets the omicron variant.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla also said the snaps could be ready in under 100 days, or just over three months.

“Good idea, but honestly it’s impractical,” Leong said of a vaccine that specifically targets omicron. “We will not be able to rush the vaccines on time and by the time the vaccines arrive virtually everyone will be infected with omicron given this high infectivity and transmissibility.”

Experts aren’t sure how contagious the highly mutated omicron variant is, but the virus’s spike protein – which binds to human cells – has mutations associated with higher transmission and decreased antibody protection. .

“The profile of the mutations strongly suggests that they will have a transmissibility advantage and that they could elude the immune protection you would get,” US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said on Sunday at ” Meet the Press ”from NBC.

Protection against current vaccines

That said, some doctors believe that existing vaccines may provide some protection against the new variant.

Our bodies generate “a multitude of different antibodies” in response to vaccines, said Dr Syra Madad, member of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

“I think our current vaccines will hold up to some extent with this new variant,” she told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” Wednesday, noting that the vaccines were able to provide protection against delta.

“This may reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine by a few notches, but that remains to be seen,” she said. Current vaccines, as well as boosters, should still offer a “good level of protection,” she added.

Leong agreed that a three-dose vaccination schedule would likely protect against serious illness, but pointed out that many countries still have low vaccination rates.

He said omicron “is threatening the whole world” with a sudden increase in the number of cases, and health systems could be overwhelmed, even if only 1% or 2% of cases end up in hospitals.

Omicron was first detected in South Africa and was designated a variant of concern by the WHO last week. It has since been reported in several other places, including Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Portugal.

For now, however, Leong has said we should continue to roll out vaccinations, keep our distance, wear masks and not be overly worried.

Madad echoed the same sentiment. “We continue to implement the Covid-19 prevention measures on an ongoing basis,” she said. “Layering it really is the best approach here.”

– CNBC’s Saheli Roy Choudhury, Spencer Kimball and Yen Nee Lee contributed to this report.

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